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New champion Harry Skelton full of praise for brother Dan’s backing

Harry Skelton has paid tribute to his brother Dan’s role in helping him to secure a first National Hunt jockeys’ championship.

All but a handful of Skelton’s 150-plus winners this year have been trained by Dan, with the duo having formed a potent partnership since striking out on their own, with the support of their Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper father Nick, nearly 10 years ago.

Skelton sealed the title after a thrilling battle with defending champion Brian Hughes, who eventually had to concede defeat on Thursday after time ran out.

“Everyone knows I ride for Dan and I don’t have too many other outside rides, but the planning and everything has been down to Dan. He knew exactly what needed to be done. Without him planning and doing all that, I wouldn’t have been in the position,” said Skelton.

Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership
Dan and Harry Skelton have formed a powerful partnership (David Davies/PA)

“We’re brothers and blood is thicker than water. The two of us have always done it together – that’s the way it is. He wants me to achieve and become the best I can and I want the same for him.

“Our owners have been fantastic and very loyal, I’m very grateful to everyone that has reached out and given me a chance to ride a winner for them, especially over the last eight weeks. It’s been fantastic and hopefully I’ve repaid them when they have booked me and given them a winner as well.”

Skelton’s progress has not been a straight line with his total dwindling to just eight winners in the 2012/13 before Dan took the plunge and set up on his own, sparking a renaissance in his brother’s riding career in the process.

He explained: “When I lost my claim, that year was all right, it was the year after it just came to a bit of a halt. I rode eight winners one season and it was disappointing.

“I was at Paul Nicholls’ for nine years and I suppose as one door closes, another one opens, but luckily Dan came along at the right time and started training. It was like we were both starting again and without him, I wouldn’t be sat here in the position I’m in.

“All my eggs were in the Lodge Hill basket, dad set us up and it was down to us then to basically not mess it up.

Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue
Harry Skelton with John Hales and Politologue (Jacob King/PA)

“It never really crossed my mind to give up. It was a hard year, but it was a year, not four or five years. I was lucky that Dan started and if he hadn’t, who knows what might have happened.

“The year before Dan started, I was riding out for as many people as I could, six days a week, travelling up and down the country and I have so much respect for all the lads in the weighing room who do that now.”

Skelton admits the winning mentality is a family trait and his father provided him with some sage advice gleaned from his breathtaking Olympic success in 2016 as he began his title push in earnest over the last few weeks.

He said: “Obviously dad has had a massive impact on my life. He’s been there and done it. It was only a little while ago John Hales, who is a family friend (and owner), said ‘you’ve got to ask your dad what he went through in that final round at Rio and how he handled it’.

“He was just there to support me really, he didn’t add any pressure on to it. You’ve just got to do everything you would normally do, that’s what he said. Take it day be day, race by race and try not to get ahead of yourself. Every race was important and every ride was important, concentrate on that moment in time and do the best you can from one race to the next.

Harry Skelton celebrates with his Bridget
Harry Skelton celebrates with wife Bridget (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Me and Dan have been brought up with horses, in showjumping and racing, and it was about winning. That was our life, that’s all we’ve ever known.”

Skelton’s wife Bridget Andrews is also no stranger to success, being a Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey herself, but the champion believes his title campaign has perhaps been toughest on those around him.

He said: “Bridget’s been amazing, the last three weeks have been difficult. It’s probably been harder on Bridget, my dad and Dan than it has on myself because they can only get me to the races and get me on the horse, then it’s down to me.

“When you really want something, it’s amazing what the mind can do. You do think about it all the time – it’s 24/7 with a battle like it’s been – but I was happy being there as it’s something I was trying to achieve.

“Of course (I will try to defend the title). Every day you are trying to win, not a lot is going to change because I go out every day and try my best. I’ll just give it everything and you just want to keep riding winners – that’s all you can do.”

Harry Skelton builds on title lead with Ludlow double

Harry Skelton moved into a commanding 10-winner lead in the jockeys’ title race with just three days of the season left after completing a double at Ludlow.

Skelton now leads Brian Hughes by 150 to 140, after the reigning champion drew a blank at Perth.

Tinnahalla gave Skelton a flying start when landing the odds in the opening Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle. The 1-6 favourite, trained by Olly Murphy, made all the running to beat The Wrekin by three and a quarter lengths.

“He did it nicely, he was a bit tight three out where he lost his back end, but then away he went,” said Skelton.

Tinnahalla on his way to initiating a double for Harry Skelton in the Join RacingTV Novices’ Hurdle at Ludlow
Tinnahalla on his way to initiating a double for Harry Skelton in the Join RacingTV Novices’ Hurdle at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

“Keen horses like him prefer the jumping because it gives them a chance to have a breather.”

Skelton took time to pay tribute to amateur Lorna Brooke, who died on Sunday following a fall at Taunton earlier this month.

He said: “Lorna was a bubbly person who always had a smile on her face and she was a grafter. She would light anyone’s day up.

“It’s devastating that she’s gone. She adored the horses and did it because she loved it. She was a true amateur.”

There was a minute’s applause in Brooke’s memory before racing so it was fitting that Garde Ville, who she partnered to victory in a point-to-point at Sandon at the beginning of the month, should win the Eddie Mapo Memorial Open Hunters’ Chase.

Immy Robinson took the ride on the 11-year-old, owned and trained by Patricia Rigby and the 9-4 shot rose to the occasion to land a poignant success.

“There were two of us riding that horse today. When he came into the home straight and we had the line of fences in front of us, I thought I’m not losing this race because he was jumping for fun,” Robinson told Racing TV.

“I just knew Lorna would be going longer and longer and she would not let those boys pass us, so I had that in my head. I didn’t look that pretty, but I was going to do it for Lorna.

Garde Ville on his way to an emotional success
Garde Ville on his way to an emotional success (David Davies/PA)

“He’s a phenomenal horse and Lorna should have been riding him today and they were a match made in heaven.

“It was an absolute privilege to be on him today. He’s a real favourite in the point-to-point scene round this area. He’s so consistent and gives his all every time.”

Hatcher (5-6 favourite), trained by Skelton’s brother Dan, gave the jockey a quick double when disposing of Solar Impulse by two and a half lengths in the Watch On Racing TV New Handicap Chase.

The winning trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse who Pat (Betts, owner) bought as a foal. He was beaten on the all-weather on his first start but has now won 12, including five over fences.

“He doesn’t show signs of losing his pace and will keep going through the summer.”

On his brother’s title hopes, the Alcester handler said: “Until Brian needs more winners than he has rides, it isn’t officially over, but with Harry now 10 ahead it will be very hard for him.”

Another Stowaway  on his way to landing the Shukers Landrover Defender Handicap Chase at Ludlow
Another Stowaway on his way to landing the Shukers Landrover Defender Handicap Chase at Ludlow (David Davies/PA)

Another Stowaway (12-1) made most of the running to take the Shukers Landrover Defender Handicap Chase.

The Tom George-trained nine-year-old kept on gamely for Ciaran Gethings to see off Tinkers Hill Tommy and Bbold by two and a half lengths and one and a quarter lengths.

George said: “He won really nicely and I’m very happy with him. It’s taken a long time for him to slip down the handicap, but it’s nice to get him back in winning ways.

“All credit to his owners for being so patient with him. They’ve given the horse every chance. He’s had a few wind operations so I’m delighted for them.”

Nube Negra handed Punchestown assignment

Dan Skelton expects to field a smaller team than expected on the final day of the season at Sandown – with Nube Negra heading to Punchestown instead.

Skelton had made plenty of entries at the Esher track, but with the ground currently described as good, the Alcester handler is set to swerve the meeting with a few of his potential runners.

Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra was due to be Skelton’s headline act in a rematch with his Cheltenham conqueror Put The Kettle On in the bet365 Celebration Chase, but the seven-year-old will now line up in Ireland next week instead.

“With the weather as dry as it is, we will adopt a cautious approach at Sandown,” said Skelton.

“Not That Fuisse (Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase) will be our main one and I do think he has unfinished business to attend to.

“Nube Negra will go to Punchestown and I feel he’s exceptionally good.”

Skelton edges further clear of Hughes in jockeys’ championship

Harry Skelton appears almost certain to be crowned champion jockey for the first time on Saturday after extending his lead over Brian Hughes to eight with a double at Hexham on Monday.

Both Skelton and Hughes headed to Northumberland with a strong book of rides, with reigning champion Hughes in desperate need of a big day as he began the afternoon six winners behind ahead of the conclusion of the season this weekend.

However, it was Skelton who strengthened his already-considerable grip on the title race by landing the second and third races of the day, while Hughes drew a blank.

The pair fought out a thrilling finish to the Hexham Britain’s Most Scenic Racecourse ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle, with Skelton and brother Dan teaming up with 8-11 favourite Dazzling Glory.

Hughes threw everything he had at the Donald McCain-trained Geromino after the final flight, but came off second best by a head.

Skelton and Hughes also filled the first two places in the following kingmakerracedays.co.uk Working With Susan Corbett Racing Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Brian Hughes faces an uphill battle to retain his crown
Brian Hughes faces an uphill battle to retain his crown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

However, while it was not entirely plain sailing for Skelton aboard the 2-5 favourite Dragon Bones as she hung right on the approach to the final flight, she was well on top as she passed the post with just over four lengths in hand over the Hughes-ridden Little Actress.

With their respective tallies of 148 and 140 winners for the campaign, Skelton and Hughes are Sedgefield on Tuesday to continue their battle, with both riding in all seven races on the card.

There was a minute’s silence before racing and all jockeys wore black armbands as a mark of respect to amateur rider Lorna Brooke, who tragically died on Sunday after being airlifted to hospital following a fall at Taunton 10 days earlier.

Harry Skelton extends title lead with Bangor double

Harry Skelton stretched his jump jockeys’ championship lead to six ahead of Brian Hughes thanks to a double on his brother Dan’s horses at Bangor.

Dan Gun and Dog Of War struck for the Skeltons – while Hughes suffered several near misses as his title rival took his winning tally to 145.

Skelton and Hughes are set to continue trading blows throughout the last week of the season – but with just seven days to go before the finale at Sandown, it is the former who has the clear upper hand, and has shortened to 1-20 favourite with the bookmakers.

Brother Dan has nonetheless warned the title is not a done deal yet, and he is expecting more twists and turns still to come in the battle royal at Ayr, Perth, Sandown and elsewhere over the coming days.

The Warwickshire trainer told Sky Sports Racing: “The worst hope is false hope – you can’t think that it’s over, because it certainly isn’t.

“Brian Hughes is definitely going to have more than five winners between now and the end of the season.

“So it’s going to be hard. There’s no time to take your foot off the gas, no time to dwell and reflect – you’ve got to keep going forward.”

He is, however, very proud of what his brother has achieved so far.

“It’s a great position for Harry to be in,” he added.

“Every jockey walks into the weighing room for the very first time and hopes one day they can be in a position to challenge for champion jockey – and he is in that position.

“It’s been an amazing rollercoaster, and I’ve always thought the final week will have a big say in it – and I think Perth (Wednesday to Friday) is going to have a massive, massive say.

“There’s no time to take in what’s going on. It’s all been flat out, but I hope we can look back on it all when we get to the end, and reflect positively.

“I’m proud of Harry. I drive the car a little bit – Tom Messenger does most of that – and I declare the horses.

“When it comes to being champion jockey, it’s a one-man thing. So he’s got to be proud of himself, and we’re all very proud of him.”

Skelton stretched his title advantage in the opening race, the first division of the Potter Group Handicap Hurdle.

Dan Gun provided him with his 144th winner before noon, on a card which got under way at 11.25 so it could be completed before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.

The 13-8 favourite was delivered from off the pace and was clear at the last, beating Hughes and Rubytwo into second by six and a half lengths.

Both jockeys were unplaced in division two, and then Hughes had to settle for second again in the Maelor Handicap Chase – leading at the last on Discko Des Plages only to be run out of it by Aidan Coleman on another of the 3-1 co-favourites, Casa Tall.

Hughes’ run of near misses continued in a groundhog scenario in the Darlands Novices’ Handicap Chase, with the extra aggravation for him this time of finishing second to Skelton again.

The championship leader arrived with a telling challenge at the last once more as Dog Of War defied a minor market drift to 3-1 to beat Hughes on 2-1 favourite Armattiekan by a length and a half.

The winning jockey said: “He did it really well, and travelled well.

“Since he only ran the other day, we hadn’t done a lot with him – maybe we should have done a bit more, because he was quite fresh.

“I’ll keep rolling, keep going.”

The Skeltons were, however, then out of luck with their last runner of the day – Interconnected in the Horseradish Maiden Hurdle.

In the absence of Hughes, the long odds-on favourite appeared to have a golden opportunity to break his duck but instead fell at the last when upsides the 28-1 winner Aviewtosea.

Both horse and jockey were unscathed.

Nietzsche continues to do Ellison proud with Ayr victory

Brian Ellison was delighted to see Nietzsche bag his biggest victory over fences to date with battling performance in the Hillhouse Quarry Handicap Chase at Ayr.

Winner of the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old had been running consistently well in competitive handicap chases all season, most recently finishing eighth in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Ridden by Johnny Burke, Nietzsche was a 6-1 shot for the Listed feature on the opening day of the Scottish Grand National meeting – and after taking over from Voix Du Reve on the run-in, had just enough in reserve to repel 15-8 favourite Not That Fuisse by a neck.

“He’s a star,” said Ellison.

“He’s won four races on the Flat, he’s won a Greatwood Hurdle and was third in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham (in 2017). He probably would have won that day if he didn’t hit the front too early.

“He ran at the Festival last time and was third at Cheltenham before that. He’s a good horse.

“Johnny gave him a good ride. He wanted to get there after the last and that’s what he did.”

While out of luck with Not That Fuisse, Harry Skelton extended his lead in the race to be crowned champion jockey to four courtesy of a first- and last-race double.

The rider teamed up with brother Dan to win both the Tennent’s Lager Novices’ Hurdle with 4-9 favourite Stepney Causeway, and the Book Your Staycation At Western House Hotel Handicap Hurdle with 11-2 chance I’d Better Go Now.

Stepney Causeway was winning his fourth successive race over obstacles when scoring by 19 lengths in the opener, but could be set for a return to the Flat.

His trainer said: “He’s a remarkable horse, to be honest. He’s just improving rapidly and it was great to see him do it like that.

“On his first run for us we ran him in soft ground and right-handed and it turned out that’s everything he doesn’t want. We’ve since run him left-handed on better ground and he’s won four.

“He’ll have an entry in the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock and he’s also entered in the Chester Cup. He won’t get in the Cup, I don’t think, but he could get in the consolation race (Chester Plate).

“The horse in the last (I’d Better Go Now) is very good fresh and Harry gave him a brilliant ride.”

The brace took Harry Skelton to 143 winners for the season, with reigning champion Brian Hughes on 139 after drawing a blank.

His brother added: “Harry is four clear, but I keep saying it, it’s not enough!”

Both jockeys are in action at Bangor on Saturday before returning to Ayr for Sunday’s Coral Scottish Grand National.

Harry Skelton continues to gather title momentum

Harry Skelton drew stumps with a three-winner advantage over Brian Hughes in their electric title-race battle after both enjoyed victories at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Skelton teamed up with brother Dan for the victories of Faivoir and Proschema, while reigning champion Hughes posted a single success on Domaine De L’Isle.

While Skelton can rely on the full support of his sibling to provide his mounts in the remaining nine days, Hughes will cast his net far and wide, as he did for his latest scorer, who is trained near Swindon by Sean Curran.

Skelton said: “Harry is three clear, but the worst hope is false hope, and there’s no point thinking you have won.

Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form
Dan and Harry Skelton are enjoying an excellent run of form (David Davies/PA)

“Yesterday was a big day for Harry (rode three winners at Southwell), especially after we drew a blank on Monday, when I thought we had some serious chances.

“But Harry will have a ride in every race from now until the end of the season. While it’s no big deal for Harry to have a double at Stratford or Warwick, Brian is used to riding six or seven every day, and he and his team will get winners.”

The Skelton team first struck gold with Faivoir (4-6 favourite), who registered his fifth victory of the campaign in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Hurdle.

“This horse has been on the go since the first Cheltenham meeting in October and was left in front a long way out, which made it more difficult,” said his trainer.

“I had it in mind to go chasing with him straight away, but now we just might have a rethink.

“We would have gone straight in over two and a half miles, but the way he races he is going to be versatile distance-wise.”

Little over an hour late the Skeltons doubled up with Proschema in the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-2 joint-favourite powered to the front approaching the final flight and pulled six and a half lengths clear of Winds Of Fire.

Skelton added: “The ground was way too soft for him when he ran in the Greatwood Hurdle here in November.

“Today was the first time we’d stretched him out in trip, and it’s all come together, although it’s taken a while for it to happen.

“The ground is vitally important and we will now go for a race over two miles and six furlongs at Haydock on Swinton Hurdle day.”

Hughes might have had luck on his side on Domaine De L’Isle in the Weatherite Handicap Chase, as The Mighty Don was showing no signs of stopping when hitting the second-last fence.

That error caused jockey James Davies to defy gravity by toppling onto Sam Twiston-Davies on Coo Star Sivola, who courteously helped him remain the plate.

As the Sean Curran-trained Domaine De L’Isle went on to score by a length and a half, Davies managed to complete the course on The Mighty Don, but in fifth place.

Hughes, conceding the emphasis was with Skelton, said: “James’ horse drifted onto my path and then back into Sam, who saved the day.

“I rode this horse two years ago at Newcastle and won on him at Ascot. He then lost his form, but Sean’s got him back with a wind job.”

On the title race, he added: “Winners round here are hard to find for northern jockeys.

“The advantage is with Harry, but it’s not over yet.”

Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor
Manofthemountain (right) in winning action at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

Manofthemountain is a name to conjure with through the summer and next autumn following his smooth-as-silk delivery in the Ballymore Silver Trophy Limited Handicap Chase.

The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding travelled like a dream for Tom Bellamy and readily put the race to bed between the final two fences, scoring by four and a half lengths and a length and a half from Magic Saint and Romain De Senam.

Sporting the Limato colours of Paul Jacobs, the 8-1 winner could have the Paddy Power Gold Cup back here in November as a major objective.

Lavelle explained: “He’d had a break going into his previous race at Kempton and just took a blow at the second-last. The ground is probably the key to him, and I’m happy that we’ve found a distance (two and a half miles) where he should be.

“Paul is one of racing’s greatest enthusiasts and likes to plot a route. The Summer Plate at Market Rasen is an option, but the big target is to come back here in the autumn (for the Paddy Power).”

Oliver Sherwood was among the winners
Oliver Sherwood was among the winners (Simon Cooper/PA)

Oliver Sherwood attributed the addition of blinkers to Jersey Bean’s game front-running success under Brendan Powell in the Arkells Brewery Nicholson Holman Novices’ Handicap Chase.

After the 4-1 chance scored by six and a half lengths from Accordingtogino, Sherwood said: “He loved that ground but will now have a holiday.

“I’ve got to thank Henrietta Knight because his jumping was average and after a week’s school with her she suggested blinkers.

“He will get further, and we should have some fun with him next year.”

Local trainer Fergal O’Brien got to within two of the century mark for the season, while conditional Liam Harrison had his claim cut to 5lb courtesy of Ask Dillon’s triumph in the Jockey Club Cheltenham And SW Syndicate Handicap Hurdle.

Harrison said: “A few of them going a good gallop suited us, and my horse travelled on that decent ground. He’s done plenty of schooling over fences, which is the direction he’ll be heading next season.”

The Nicky Henderson-trained Hooper successfully stepped into handicap company to take the Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle under Ben Ffrench Davis.

My Drogo stars in Mersey Novices’ Hurdle

My Drogo took his winning run to four with a most convincing performance in the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Connections of the Dan Skelton-trained six-year-old decided to miss Cheltenham and it proved a wise move, with My Drogo powering home under Harry Skelton.

Pulling away in the closing stages, the 5-4 favourite crossed the line nine and a half lengths clear of Minella Drama, ridden by Skelton’s title rival Brian Hughes. Guard Your Dreams was half a length away in third. The first three were well ahead of Ballyadam in fourth.

My Drogo was held up towards the rear in the early stages as Llandinabo Lad made the running from Striking A Pose.

There was drama at the fourth-last flight, just as the race was warming up, with Lucky One and Striking A Pose both coming down.

Skelton managed to miss all that as he started to ask My Drogo for an effort – and it was plain sailing from there as the son of Milan opened his Grade One account in some style.

Both Harry Cobden and Jonjo O’Neill junior were thankfully on their feet after the spill, but Cobden was subsequently stood down for the day, meaning he missed the ride on Give Me A Copper in the Grand National.

Of the exciting winner, Dan Skelton said: “It’s a little bit of a relief. I felt coming here it was nearly his race to lose given the prep he’d had, missing Cheltenham – it’s such an advantage here.

Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo
Harry Skelton celebrates with My Drogo (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We’d always planned to come straight here. To give away a penalty at Kelso, and that form has stood up, gave an indication of what was possible.

“It’s very exciting to be involved with a horse like him, he’s got it all. The plan was always to go chasing next year, despite the lure of better hurdles. Given his breeding, size and the way he jumps it’s now or never if we want to make him a top-class chaser.

“For a moment today I was worried we’d run him in the wrong race given how well he was going, but I always felt he’d get two and a half miles.

“We want to make him a staying chaser – next year he’ll start over shorter, but ultimately he’ll be a staying chaser.”

He added: “He’s going 100 per cent over fences. We’ll start him off over two miles in the autumn somewhere and build up in trip.

“I don’t think we’ll go further than two and a half miles next year. Then ultimately plot a career this time next year for him because his novice chase year is important. We’ve got to get through that prosperously and then look at the future.

“He’s a very exciting horse.”

Protektorat strikes early at Aintree for Skelton

Protektorat gave title-chasing jockey Harry Skelton a flying start to the three-day Grand National meeting by winning the Grade One SSS Super Alloys Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Skelton delivered the six-year-old, trained by his brother Dan, with a well-timed challenge to lead on the run-in and land the spoils from The Shunter – with Hitman a close third.

Hitman was always prominent, with Fusil Raffles making the running until he was pulled up after making a bad mistake down the far side.

His exit left Hitman in front. But when it came to the business end of the two-and-a-half mile contest, he was strongly challenged first by The Shunter and then by Protektorat (17-2). The latter went on to win by three and three-quarter lengths.

The winning rider said: “He was very good today. It’s a great way to start the meeting.

“Dan has just said he’s never thought about a horse as much as he has about Protektorat this year. He has a hell of a lot of ability, but hasn’t been the easiest with his mind and wind issues.

“The last day at Kelso, it just didn’t happen for him, but he’s undergone a wind operation since then and has come right today.”

His delighted trainer added: “That was absolutely brilliant. Harry gave him a great ride.

“I didn’t expect that to happen. I said to the owners, who also had Hitman in the race, that today was a short-term plan to get a long-term result next year.

Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree
Sir Alex Ferguson watches on as Protektorat takes the spoils at Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

“I thought he’d run creditably, but I didn’t expect him to win. It’s a long way back from Kelso, where he was beaten after the second jump – he was jumping right-handed and didn’t want to be there.

“We mixed things up today – taking the hood off, putting the tongue-tie on and redoing his palate.

“That’s him done for the season now. I was thinking of starting him off back here in the Old Roan, but if the ground is right, maybe we’ll go straight to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall.”

Protektorat is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, and Harry Skelton said: “It’s brilliant to have owners back. They’ve been so patient through this difficult period, but they’ve stuck by us and hopefully they’re here to stay now.”

Skelton matches pace with Hughes in title race

Harry Skelton is favourite with the bookmakers to claim his maiden jockeys’ title after remaining just three winners behind defending champion Brian Hughes thanks to his double at Warwick.

While Hughes was adding two winners to his tally up at Newcastle, Skelton did likewise at his local track for his brother Dan’s Warwickshire stable on King D’argent and Stylish Dancer.

Dan Skelton nonetheless pointed out that Hughes is still in front – albeit by only 129 to 126, as the title race approaches its final month –  and the champion has several of the best yards in the north to call on.

He said: “Harry is looking at it as such a thrill, because he’s always wanted to be the champion jockey, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than getting him over the line.

“Harry has gone favourite with the bookies, but Brian has the lead – and if it all stops tomorrow he has won.

“We need good competition, and the two Harrys and Brian are giving us that in a classic ‘North’ (Brian) versus ‘Middle England’ (Harry) and the ‘South’ (Harry Cobden) battle that looks like it could go down to the wire.

“But we also need to remember that challenging is the first part of the equation – and the second is winning.

“You can’t do the second without embracing the first- but Brian has the initiative, and it’s going to be tight.”

Dan Skelton hopes fences will continue to prove the making of Stylish Dancer after the 5-4 favourite’s near eight-length victory in the Watch On Racing TV Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“She’s very good at her fences and sets herself right,” he said.

“She just managed to scrape home in a handicap hurdle, but was weak and has become stronger.

“I won’t press the button too soon with her, and I’m looking at a valuable three-and-a-quarter-mile mares’ chase at Cheltenham next month.”

After King d’Argent’s eight-and-a-half-length win from Benatar as the 11-8 favourite in the Bet At racingtv.com Handicap Chase, Skelton added: “I’m gobsmacked at how much he’s improved over a fence.

“It just shows you how those juveniles can get lost in the wilderness for a year, but now he’s a credit to himself.

“He’s back better than ever, and it’s 50/50 whether we go for a Listed handicap at Ayr.”

Looking forward to some of his yard’s big names heading for valuable targets this spring, the Alcester handler said: “We’ll have a full team for Aintree – including novice chasers Shan Blue and Protectorate, novice hurdlers Third Time Lucki and My Drogo and Blaklion in the National.

“Nube Negra will head for the Celebration Chase at Sandown, while Allmankind might stretch out in trip in a novice chase at Ayr.”

Allmankind will head to Ayr

Allmankind is set to head to Ayr for the Jordan Electrics Ltd Future Champion Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles.

Dan Skelton has decided to step the five-year-old up in trip, following his first defeat over fences in the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Hassled for the lead throughout by Captain Guinness, his effort had petered out by the home straight as Shishkin breezed to an impressive win.

“I think we got put in our place quite unanimously by Shishkin, so I’m going to try him up in trip actually,” Skelton told Racing TV.

“I think we might even go to Ayr, over two and a half, and it gives him a little longer (to get over Cheltenham). He did put everything into that race.

“We’re not afraid to run him. He’s only a novice once, and that is why we’ll get him out once more.”

Skelton endured a frustrating Cheltenham Festival, with several horses placed and none getting closer than Nube Negra in the Champion Chase.

“Nube Negra will go for the Celebration Chase at Sandown,” said the Warwickshire trainer.

“At the moment that is where he’s going, touch wood.”

Another to claim the silver medal at Prestbury Park was stablemate Langer Dan in the Martin Pipe, just five days after he had won the Imperial Cup, but Skelton feels he may have faced a stiff task in any case against the winner Galopin Des Champs.

“Langer Dan won’t run again (this season). He ran only five days later, and you’ve got to congratulate him on a good end of his season,” said Skelton.

“He bumped into one. I think we’ll be seeing that one in some Grade Ones – he looks very good.”

Harry Skelton fires Hereford four-timer to narrow title gap

Harry Skelton kept up his title chase with a four-timer at Hereford on Wednesday.

Skelton started the day nine winners behind Brian Hughes and four in front of third-placed Harry Cobden, and he was quick off the mark aboard Real Stone in the opening Central Roofing Novices’ Hurdle.

Trained by his brother Dan, Skelton is unlikely to enjoy an many easier winners as the 1-10 favourite dismissed his two rivals without coming out of second gear, cantering home 91 lengths clear of Harlow, with Rogue Male a further nine lengths back in third.

Skelton said: “Although the ground was a bit dead on top, it was fine. It’s always great to get a winner here at Hereford – it’s been a lucky course for me and that’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Skelton returns to the winner's enclosure aboard Ambassador
Skelton returns to the winner’s enclosure aboard Ambassador (PA)

The Skelton team soon made it a double as another favourite, 2-1 chance Ambassador, proved a length too good for Kamaxos in the Central Roofing Juvenile Maiden Hurdle.

Unplaced in five runs on the Flat for Richard Fahey, Ambassador was making it fourth time lucky over obstacles for current connections after undergoing wind surgery since his last start.

The winning rider said: “The wind operation has helped him. He was quite keen and fresh, but he enjoyed the track and better ground.

“He’s a proper Flat horse – strong and not over big – and he loved the going.”

Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony
Skelton with his third winner, Global Harmony (PA)

Global Harmony then made it a hat-trick for the Skeltons in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 7-4 shot was making her handicap debut and despite a mistake at the last, she kept on for a two-and-three-quarter-length verdict.

Stylish Dancer (13-2) then rounded off a fabulous day with victory in the closing Central Roofing Handicap Hurdle.

With Hughes out of luck at Haydock and Cobden failing to strike at Hereford, Skelton was thrilled to have strengthened his championship position.

He added: “I’m delighted to have narrowed the gap with Brian – it’s been a great afternoon. The horses are just in such great form generally, and happily they all seem to be enjoying the ground.”

James Bowen also got in on the riding act, initiating a double aboard To Be Sure (11-4) in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Evan Williams’ charge kept finding a bit extra after jumping the last to reel in the Skelton’s 2-1 favourite Headfullofdreams and win by half a length.

Bowen said: “It took a while for my lad to warm to his task as he wasn’t letting himself down in the early stages and the ground is quick out there.

“Overall he jumped really well and I would like to thank Evan for the ride – he’s been good to me.

“I feel like I’m riding well at the moment and I hope I can keep the strike-rate up.”

James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon
James Bowen following his first win of the afternoon (PA)

Bowen then added to his tally aboard the Toby Lawes-trained Pottlereaghexpress (10-11 favourite) in the Central Roofing Mares’ Handicap Chase.

Lawes, who was also on the mark with Kap Auteuil at Market Rasen, said: “Plan A was to get her head in front after a few near-misses and that’s been achieved.

“She’s a bonny little filly, well put together and I think she’s only once ever been out of the frame.

“I’m pleased for James and the general aim is to build with our team, which includes a number of young horses with bags of potential.”

Beau Haze sprang a 20-1 shock for trainer Philip Dando and jockey Conor Ring in the Central Roofing Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

‘We’ve got to raise our game – big time’

Harry Fry warns British National Hunt racing needs to substantially “raise our game” if it is to compete with its Irish counterparts.

British-trained runners won just five of the 28 races across the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One-winning duo Shishkin and Chantry House providing the highlights for the home team.

Fry fielded four runners at the Festival – including the well-fancied Metier, who beat just one home in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which was won in spectacular fashion by Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It.

While full of respect for the achievements of the Irish runners, Fry thinks there are plenty of areas requiring swift attention if British trainers are to mount more of a challenge next year.

He said: “They’re doing everything better than we are, quite simply. We have to congratulate them on a fantastic week, and aspire to the heights they’ve hit.

“We’ve got to raise our game – big time.

“There’s going to be lots of thought and conversations going on. We’ve already started that, from recruiting the right horses to getting the right owners involved. It’s everything – it’s the race planning, the team at home, the staff that work with the horses.

“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game – because we need to, or we’ve going to get left behind quickly.

“We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.

“I won the Grade One Tolworth, and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”

Charlie Longsdon, who had five Festival runners, believes better prize money in Ireland is key to the strong performance of the raiding party.

He said: “They’ve got better horses than we have. Prize money is the thing.

“We didn’t quite get it right in the handicaps – but their prize money is the main reason their horses are going so well, I think.”

Dan Skelton concedes the Irish horses are superior, but also feels it is time to review the National Hunt system in Britain.

The handler saddled 13 runners at the meeting, hitting the bar on multiple occasions, most notably with Nube Negra – who just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase – and Langer Dan in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

He told ITV Racing: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that.

“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it.

“I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Oscar puts up another winning performance at Uttoxeter

Wilde About Oscar claimed a fourth victory over hurdles when taking the Burton Union Handicap Hurdle at Uttoxeter for Dan and Harry Skelton.

The six-year-old won on his hurdles debut at the track in October and was victorious again at Aintree before stepping up to Graded calibre when contesting Newbury’s Challow Novices’ Hurdle in late December.

A mistake at the seventh hurdle put paid to that plan as the gelding was pulled up, but a subsequent run at Exeter did produce Listed honours and the son of Oscar looked in fine fettle once again when winning by three-quarters of a length as the 9-5 favourite at the Midlands track.

“He’s a really honest little horse,” Harry Skelton said.

“His jumping has just got better and better with each run and he’s really progressed.

“He can definitely progress even further next season.”

Ask Me Early was a winner for Harry Fry
Ask Me Early was a winner for Harry Fry (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ask Me Early cruised to a comfortable victory in the three-mile 1834 Novices’ Handicap Chase after trainer Harry Fry vetoed a previously mooted run in the Midlands National itself.

The grey won on his debut over fences at Chepstow and followed up with a second victory at the same track in January, but a subsequent run at Sandown resulted in disappointment as the gelding was pulled up when never really travelling.

That performance was clearly forgotten at Uttoxeter as the seven-year-old ran with his previous zest and jumped fluently under Sean Bowen to record a two-and-a-quarter-length triumph.

“He’s been so progressive in his first two starts over fences, from the word go at Sandown he was never travelling or jumping with the same enthusiasm,” Fry explained.

“We got him home and he was very sore through his back and we diagnosed kissing spines, which we’ve treated.

“He roared right back to form today, he’s a real out-and-out galloper and jumps for fun.

“Truth be told, I was training him for the Midlands National today, but when we flopped at Sandown I thought I couldn’t aim that high.

“This is a lovely race for him and it’s great to see him bounce back to form, he’ll be a lovely second-season chaser to look forward to next season.”

Saint Dalina on her way to victory
Saint Dalina on her way to victory (Mike Egerton/PA)

Saint Dalina followed up a course-and-distance victory in December with another Uttoxeter success when taking the Marstons Brewery Handicap Hurdle for Charlie Longsdon and Tom Buckley.

Travelling fluently throughout, the mare was only challenged by Tim Vaughan’s Tight Call after clearing the final obstacle, but was able to hold on as the post approached to prevail by a neck.

“I’ve ridden her a few times and I really like her attitude,” Buckley said.

“She’s an out-and-out galloper and I can’t wait until she goes over fences – she’ll be even better then.

“To be fair to her, coming here today, the ground’s a bit quick for her, but she’s kept her head down, the cheekpieces have worked and she’s done it nicely.”

Tom Buckley after his win aboard Saint Dalina
Tom Buckley after his win aboard Saint Dalina (Mike Egerton/PA)

“She’s tough, she’s been a massive improver this season,” Longsdon said.

“I sort of aimed at this race thinking it was a lady riders’ race but obviously it got changed, but she’s gone and done it nicely.

“It was hard work, but she’s done a good job.”

Rosmuc Relay was victorious at Uttoxeter
Rosmuc Relay was victorious at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

Rosmuc Relay triumphed on his first run for Tom Lacey when a five-length winner of the 61 Deep Handicap Chase.

The nine-year-old was previously trained by Kim Bailey before switching stables earlier in the month, a move that has seemingly succeeded in revitalising the gelding.

A 16-1 chance, Rosmuc Relay took up the lead with a fence remaining and was able to shake off Richard Hobson’s Discko Des Plages to prevail.

“It’s freshened him up a bit,” said jockey Stan Sheppard.

“With how the race panned out, I wanted to make the running, but I was always happy just sitting where I was travelling.”

The Edgar Wallace was ridden by David Bass
The Edgar Wallace was ridden by David Bass (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Edgar Wallace (15-8) went one better than his recent runner-up spot when taking the DE14 Novices’ Hurdle by two lengths.

Trained by Kim Bailey and ridden by David Bass, the six-year-old took an early lead and made all of the running, holding on to prevail by two lengths despite the field closing in on him after the final turn.

Fergal O’Brien’s Onagatheringstorm finished second, with £620,000 purchase Interconnected a further length and a quarter behind in third.

“I knew from experience that round here on the hurdles course it was tight enough,” Bass said of his ride.

“I thought if I could wind him up and inject a bit of pace until he was there then he might get away from them.

“He is a good horse, he is, some of his bumper form is very good. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Legendary Rhythm (right) at Uttoxeter
Legendary Rhythm (right) at Uttoxeter (Mike Egerton/PA)

Legendary Rhythm (17-2) lost her maiden tag when taking the Horninglow Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by a length and a half for trainer Tom Symonds.

Anthony Honeyball’s Kilbeg King then took the concluding two-mile Marstons Pedigree Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race under Aidan Coleman by an impressive seven and a half lengths.

“It was a nice performance,” Coleman said.

“Kilbeg King travelled nicely the whole way and picked up well when I asked him to.

“I sat on him a couple of weeks ago so I knew he was quite nice and the race worked out well. “

Marracudja completes Kempton walkover

Marracudja secured the easiest £15,640 of his life in the opening Virgin Bet Silver Bowl Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The extended two-and-a-half-mile heat was conceived as a consolation race for those balloted out of Cheltenham handicaps, but a reduced number of entries at this year’s Festival meant only Marracudja was eliminated at the meeting.

Dan Skelton’s 10-year-old was therefore the horse to qualify for the race, with Bridget Andrews getting the leg up for his required canter down the course.

Marracudja had only to walk to the furlong marker and canter back past the winning post to take home the first prize.

Andrews said: “I’ve only ever once before been involved in a walkover, which was at Warwick, and it’s a strange situation when you go to the furlong marker and canter back over the line – especially because this horse was very full of himself and he’s not the easiest.”

Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford added: “Since I started clerking here in 1999, this is only the second walkover. The first was in 2002 – it was a chase on the October Sunday meeting brought about by fast ground.”

Marracudja had not secured a first prize since December 2019, when he was an impressive winner of the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, before going on to finish third in the Grade One Clarence House Chase a month later.